Before Nike came along, there was barefoot running. For many centuries, walking and running barefoot was the only way to get around, and the human foot — a supreme masterpiece of muscles, tendons and 26 bones — evolved to absorb weight and spring bodies in stride.
I have been running both leisurely and competitively for a year now and have been doing so clad in any one of my collection of Nike, Asics, Mizuno, New Balance, and Zoot running shoes. And then I got introduced to barefoot running with Vibram Five Fingers (VFF).
Yes, VFF are gloves for your feet, and most people find it silly-looking. I thought so too, until I tried it on, walked on it, and let out a very audible aaahhhh because of the unbelievable comfort it gave my battered feet.
Widely-advertized as the first footwear to offer “the sensation of going barefoot with the protection and security of a sole,” Vibram’s FiveFingers shoe-gloves have stretchy synthetic uppers and thin rubber soles. Vibram celebrates its FiveFingers models as promoting better foot health and stimulating the muscles in the feet and lower legs for greater balance, agility and strength. Other potential benefits the company cites include better posture and reduced back pain.
I’ve been testing the Sprint model, which is made for hiking, yoga, sailing, surfing, canoeing, and barefoot running. Naturally, these shoes fit tight, wrapping each toe and following the lines of your foot back to a defined heel cup. The Sprint model has a Velcro strap that cinches over the top of the foot for extra security. Being the girly-girl that I am, I got the Sprint in red and orange colors and as a result, I am now getting twice the attention I normally get when walking around.
Recently, I took my Sprints on a test run with fellow Vibram users and did 6km around Bonifacio High Street. Anticipating slight discomfort because it was my first time to use Sprint for running, I made sure I wore toe socks – which proved to be a very wise move on my part as I am quite prone to getting blisters.
One thing I noticed is that I feel stones and cracks in the sidewalk through the shoes. Perhaps, it is because the sole serves only to protect the skin and not really your joints. Despite the claimed health advantages, first-time FiveFingers wearers have to be careful, especially when running. I am a regular runner, and I prefer shoes that promote minimal support in favor of bolstering foot and leg strength. And the FiveFingers philosophy clearly is the embodiment of this minimalism as there’s almost zero cushioning underfoot.
Anyone with bad knees or other health problems might think twice before trying the Vibram experience.
But in the right physical condition — and with the right technique — running in a pair of FiveFingers is a cool feeling. You can almost sense yourself getting stronger and your strides more assured.
I have yet to try it in yoga, but if I have to go by my Vibram experience in running, I am positive I’m going to have as much fun with it on the mat. For casual use, it took some getting used to given that I am moreoften seen prancing around in stilletos, when i’m not running. Expectedly, I got mixed reviews from friends. Some liked it and thought Sprint was cute, while others simply said they look silly. Either way, I find so much comfort in them that I really don’t pay much attention to the few weird glances cast my way. Besides, they look very nice when worn with microshorts or skirts.
As for fit, I’d recommend trying a pair or two on at a store as the toe slots are small and tight. But once on and secured, a FiveFingers shoe should fit like a glove.
***Vibram Five Fingers Sprint model is sold at P4,450 and is exclusively distributed by BAREFOOTWEAR, INC. with its flagship store at Rockwell Mall.